Kinship as Solidarity and Accountability

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“We Believe in a collective process and a nonhierarchical distribution of power within our own group and in our vision of a revolutionary society.”

Combahee River Collective Statement (1977)

I am Black American and Saginaw Chippewa. I have grown up Afro-Indigenous my whole life, even though, to the outside world, I am perceived as Black. I am a cis-hetero-male. I benefit from patriarchy and surely contribute to a patriarchal system in personal and structural ways even as I strive to dismantle this sexist society. I grew up in a working poor family. We lived on welfare. While I grew up po’ (not poor, but po’), my class position has shifted significantly as a tenured university professor.

Why do I mention these things? Because positionality matters. How I analyze the world, how I relate to others, and how I envision a future rooted outside of hierarchies in race, class, gender, etc., are shaped by where I come from. In many Indigenous nations, including my own, we have a clan system. The clan system is meant not only to dictate to everyone in the nation how they relate to other people; it also seeks to bridge accountability, responsibility, and solidarity, as well as resist carceral logics. For example, I am makwa dodem, or Bear Clan. It is used to describe how I relate to other people in my clan and nation. I have a responsibility to be a protector and healer. In Black communities, we have ways of relating too. If I call you a relative, I am including you into my chosen family structure. Your triumphs are my triumphs, and your mistakes are my mistakes. We are in this life together. We have a responsibility to take care of each other.

Our responsibilities to each other concern our future. Do we want to exist into the future or not? To do this, we need to resist all forms of carceral logics. That means no prisons. No jail. No probation. No using the court system. No uncritical hyper-policing of identities. No throwing away people because you disagree with them on social media. None of that.

Ultimately, we should be moving towards a kinship rooted in solidarity, based on radical accountability. Accountability does not promise constant forgiveness at every indiscretion, big and small, nor does it require acceptance by all. The point is that we move individuals and collectives into a different, more positive direction, which can take time.

I argue with my blood relatives about this all the time because conceptualizing true accountability is hard. Accountability means first acknowledging and addressing the harm caused to the individual and the perpetrator, knowing that systems of (in)justice in this country have worked to cause further oppression and disruption to Black and Indigenous communities.[1] As most of the abolitionists I know argue, there is not a clear road map for how this could look, but that’s not the point of abolition. We should challenge ourselves to be free as much as possible. Freedom won’t end all contradictions within our personal and structural lives, but freedom from carcerality and living without fear is the goal.

Accountability does not excuse the responsibilities we have to each other. When we mess up—and all of us will—we have a responsibility to communicate and offer some restitution, based on the collective. In addition to those who are harmed, we need to think creatively, fairly, and with the future in mind about what reparatory justice could mean. But we can’t so quickly dismiss the pain that we can cause, either. Indeed, we should not expect to live pain free. We are human. We live in a colonial, capitalist society that focuses on profit over people, on individuals over the collective. Our current predicament requires more love, more accountability, and more solidarity with one another, for the benefit of our collective futures.

What does solidarity mean during a moment of increased focus on difference and an indifference to, if not outright dismissal of, our collective, relational possibilities with one another? This is the question I continue to ask myself. I want to relate better and allow for mistakes, repeated failures. This requires patience. It requires an encompassing love that sees the whole of a person. The late bell hooks reminds us that “true love thrives on difficulties.”[2]

How we relate and imagine our collective future on land is crucial when thinking about responsibility and solidarity. Historically, members of the bear clan or makwa dodem were the healers and protectors of our people. It was our responsibility to pursue mino-bimaadiziwin, which means the good life. “The good life” in turn meant maintaining relationships built on reciprocity and care for all living things—humans and non-humans.[3]

Pursuing mino-bimaadiziwin means creating shared spaces of co-resistance, co-belonging, and amplifying our collective voices through centering the land. Centering land is also about kinship—and it is through kinship that we might find solidarity. We don’t always have to agree, but we must share core values.[4]

Building solidarity for our collective futures requires a rethinking of how we relate. It requires looking to the land, to our elders, and to one another for guidance. But this will not be easy. As queer Black feminist Audre Lorde reminds us, “any future vision which can encompass all of us, by definition, must be complex and expanding, not easy to achieve.” When I consider expansion, I think about how we must constantly reevaluate, bring in new ideas and people, and find new ways to relate. Perhaps it will build on Black and Indigenous radical traditions; it might also require creating and developing new traditions. We should never be afraid to create new ideas of self, culture, identity.

I propose we consider kinship as solidarity. For example, what if First Nations, in Canada and the United States, in exercising sovereignty, began incorporating Black people into their nations using our clan systems? We can quibble about resources, practicality, and so on, but what better way to build kinship than to expand our web of responsibility? If sovereignty means anything, it must include our bodies, our epistemologies, “and the ability to regenerate Indigenous languages, philosophies, legal systems, and intellectual systems and to nurture and continue those systems for the land.”[5] I would also add that regeneration might look like building new forms of kinship. Sometimes imagining our futures requires creating something new, but often our established practices of kinship already exist and could be utilized.

Solidarity can be a difficult term. In the reissue of Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination, historian Robin D.G. Kelley asks the question, “But is it possible to reconcile reparations for slavery and structural racism with decolonization?”[6] He directly answered that question, but he offers on the following page a definition of decolonization that I understand as an example of solidarity in motion: “decolonization means ending capitalism and returning the land, not as ‘property’ but as the source of life to be stewarded by its original inhabitants and where animals, plants, and humans can coexist and thrive together.”[7] Reparations and decolonization can indeed be reconciled, but it will take a sustained effort of difficult conversations, searing critiques, and constant reevaluation.

Our birthright is not subjugation, nor do we have to pass it onto the next generation. Our position moving forward should be creating sacred spaces where all our kin can not only survive but flourish and be who they be; that is, live to their fullest human potential without the limits of a patriarchal, settler colonial society. Robyn Maynard and Leanne Simpson argue, “the massive destruction, gendered and murderous, of (Indigenous) human life and land dispossession; the commodification, exploitation and fungibility of (Black) human life; and the relentless expropriation and destruction of non-human nature are inextricably linked: a disregard for all living things except for their value as property to be accumulated.”[8] As my comrade and Afro-Indigenous sister-in-struggle Amber Starks would say: We need to imagine possibilities for kinship, solidarity, and accountability outside of what might seem feasible within a white supremacist society. As we move toward the aftermath of settler colonialism and white supremacy, contradictions will remain. However, our job is to address them with compassion, grace, and the determination to be free, by all accountable means necessary.


[1] Kaba, M., Nopper, T., & Murakawa, N. (2021). In We do this ’til we free us: Abolitionist organizing and Transforming Justice (pp. 58–62). essay, Haymarket Books.

[2] hooks, bell. (2018). In All about love: New visions (p. 181). essay, William Morrow Paperbacks.

[3] Nightingale, E., & Richmond, C. (2022). Reclaiming land, identity and mental wellness in Biigtigong nishnaabeg territory. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19(12), 7285.

[4] Simpson, L. (2014, November 28). Indict the System: Indigenous and Black Connected Resistance [web log]. Retrieved June 5, 2023, from

[5] Simpson, L. B. (2015). The place where we all live and work together: Native Studies Keywords, 18–24.

[6] G., K. R. D. (2002). In Freedom dreams: The black radical imagination (p. xxxv). Beacon Press.

[7] Ibid., xxvvi.

[8] Maynard, R., & Simpson, L. B. (2022). Rehearsals for living. Haymarket Books.

Artwork by Mariza Ryce Aparicio-Tovar.

  • Kyle T. Mays

    Kyle T. Mays is an Afro-Indigenous (Saginaw Chippewa) writer and scholar of US history, urban studies, race relations, and contemporary popular culture. He is an Associate Professor of African American Studies, American Indian Studies, and History at the University of California, Los Angeles.

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